The Legend of the Devil Tree

Foreword:

I recently heard of the Port Saint Lucie “Devil Tree” while searching for geocaches to find. What? Never heard of Geocaching? Check out geocaching.com. With over 850,000 caches hidden around the world, there’s one near you and many hide areas offer great photo ops! By the way, when you go searching in a wooded area, always, I mean always, set where you parked your car as a waypoint on your GPSr (GPS receiver). This time I forgot!!

Anyway, there is a cache called Devil Tree Treasure and it is hidden around THE Devil Tree which is still growing strong in Oak Hammock Park. So today (9/14/09) I decide to go check out the park and find the four caches hidden there. Thank goodness for my GPSr or I would still be there trying to find my way out!! Turning around and trying to find your way out from the way you came in didn’t work. There are quite a few paths and where they lead, it seems somewhere different than where you want to go. I did find a way out, but it was a long way from where I parked. I only know this because I passed that entrance driving there and the main entrance in much further down the road and on another street. Did I mention this park is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and also borders a canal?

Again, checking my GPSr for some guidance, at least it showed me where the next cache was hidden! I was able to find another way out, but closer to the path where I entered the woods and closer to the Devil Tree. Now usually I can pull up the info on the cache like hints, comments, etc., but my GPSr would not load the Devil Tree cache info. Hmmmm!! And because of that I wasn’t able to find the cache, but I did find the tree of legend. I really did enjoy the walk!

And now the legend………

The Legend of the Devil Tree

Oak Hammock Park is a local hangout for fishermen and boaters along the C-24 Canal. On January 8th, 1973, long before the park was built, the deranged serial killer (Gerard John Schaefer, a policeman) beat, raped, hung, then buried 2 girls beneath the “Devil Tree”.

According to The Grim Society research part of that is not true. The girls were hitchhiking and they disappeared between January 8th and January 15, 1973- when serial killer Gerard Schaefer was jailed for assaulting two other hitchhikers, Pamela Sue Wells and Nancy Ellen Trotter.

He abducted them, took them to some remote woods and tied them to trees where he threatened to kill them or sell them into prostitution. However, when he got a call on his police radio, Schaefer had to go, leaving the girls tied up. He vowed that he would return.

The two girls, who were aged 18 and 17, escaped their bonds and went to the nearest police station, which was actually their kidnapper’s own station. When Schaefer returned to the woods and found his victims gone, he called his station and claimed that he had done “something foolish”, explaining that he had pretended to kidnap and threaten to kill two hitchhikers in order to scare them into avoiding such an irresponsible method of travel. Schaefer’s boss did not believe him and he ordered Schaefer to the station where he stripped him of his badge and charged him with false imprisonment and assault.

A few months later, in September, he abducted and killed two more girls and buried their bodies on Hutchinson Island.

In December that year, Schaefer appeared in court in relation to the abduction of the two girls who had escaped his clutches back in July. Due to a plea bargain, he was able to plead guilty to just one charge of aggravated assault, for which he received a sentence of one year.

To read more about Gerard Schaefer and his crimes and arrests see the article at Wikipedia.

So back to the Devil Tree. Now you know a bit about how the legend started, but there’s more!

In January 1977, almost 4 years to the day that the murders were committed, two fishermen discovered the skeletal remains of the two bodies, and the hanging ropes were also found. However, as research shows that the two fisherman actually found the remains under a smaller oak tree. The Devil Tree was spared, for now!

Over the years people have reported hearing screaming, and seeing hooded figures walking around the woods. In 1993 an exorcism was held, and a cross was erected, after two boys claimed to have seen a Satanic ritual taking place near the tree, and being chased away by the Satanists who yelled that they wanted their blood. This rather astounding information has proven to be true.

I witnessed nothing of the sort during my visit today. I didn’t feel any strangeness or eerieness, just awe for the size and form of the Devil Tree. Well, I am a treehugger and really like trees! I did hear sounds, but I basically dismissed those as general “woods sounds”. Now as I think about being there, could I have heard more than the usual sounds of nature? Was I being watched by the unknown, or whatever your mind chooses to think in situations like this?

I did see two guys as I was making my way to the Devil Tree. I even asked them if they knew where it was. They said they didn’t know, but now I’m wondering were they alive or ghosts!! Ah, but I saw them again as I was coming out of the woods and they told me exactly where to find the Devil Tree. Strange, they seemed so alive!

Before the park was built, they were going to cut down the tree, but their chainsaws kept malfunctioning in the area surrounding the tree. They tried to cut down the tree manually with a two-man saw, but the teeth of the saw broke off, so they left the tree where it was.

We can not confirm or deny this portion of the legend at this time, but we did find this, again in the newspaper:

“Pastors gathered at a 150-year-old oak in Port St. Lucie Thursday and chanted, ‘ Demons be gone,’ to drive away the evil they say resided in the tree. The tree won a reprieve Friday when the owner decided not to cut it down.”

Whether that decision was based on a desire to preserve the tree or because the tree wouldn’t ‘allow’ itself to be cut down, we can’t say at this time.

Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 6, 1993

*The land on which the Devil’s Tree grew eventually found its way into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department in Port Saint Lucie. As the story goes, the employees were instructed to cut the tree down in preparation for the land becoming a public park. Here is an excerpt from a standard “friend of a friend” accounting of what happened next:

“The city decided to remove the tree. They contracted the work out to a local tree removal service, who went in with their chainsaws and equipment to cut down the oak, however, their chainsaws wouldn’t fire up. Frustrated, but not ready to give up, they returned with some unused chainsaws, and were surprised to find they also wouldn’t start. All of the chainsaws worked properly later on.

The story got even odder because they came back again, planning to cut down the tree with an old fashioned two person pull saw, the kind made out of tempered steel. Oddly, the teeth broke off the saw.

At this point, the city felt they had run out of options and just decided to leave the tree. That is- until recently. I have heard rumor that perhaps the Devil’s Tree may have been cut down without anyone having been told. Since I haven’t been to Oak Hammock Park recently, I can’t confirm that though.”*

It is also said that the woman’s restroom at the park is also a spot with unexplained noises and other events. I didn’t use the restroom, so I can’t comment on this aspect of the legend.

Epilogue

That pretty much sums up the legend of the Devil Tree. I am destined to go back, I have to find that cache! I now know where it is and it’s close to an easy escape should the need arise, I will venture forth and bravely test the woods again. Thankfully the park is only open from dawn to dusk, so I won’t have to venture in after dark!

Urban legends, true or not, sure make for interesting stories!! What’s your local urban legend?

The size of the tree: HUGE!! Although I have seen one larger, a 100 + year old Live Oak in Thomasville, GA, it was definitely not as menacing looking!

Excerpts courtesy of The Grim Society and Wikipedia

The Legend of the Devil Tree

Donna Adamski

Joined August 2008

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Artist's Description

This is the story of the legend of the Port Saint Lucie, Florida “Devil Tree” in Oak Hammock Park. A huge oak tree that seems to some to be immortal, well if a tree can be. Excerpts of the story are from a Google search and credit is given as known.

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